IRL ENGINE COMPETITION HEATS UP IN ARIZONA DESERT Independent Builders Compete for Customers and Prestige with Oldsmobile Powerplants in Final Warm-Up for Indy 500 Phoenix, Ariz. -- With 51 of the 52 cars on the entry...
IRL ENGINE COMPETITION HEATS UP IN ARIZONA DESERT
Independent Builders Compete for Customers and Prestige with Oldsmobile Powerplants in Final Warm-Up for Indy 500
Phoenix, Ariz. -- With 51 of the 52 cars on the entry list for the Pep Boys Indy Racing League Dura-Lube 200 at Phoenix International Raceway using Oldsmobile IRL Aurora V8 engines, you might think there is a lack of competition among engine suppliers at the second round of the IRL's 11-race series.
You would be mistaken.
In fact, the behind-the-scenes rivalry among engine builders is intense. While the IRL Aurora V8 has emerged as the undefeated champion in IRL competition, the eight independent shops which assemble Oldsmobile's production-based racing engine are competing fiercely for both business and bragging rights. The Dura-Lube 200 will be their final opportunity to show their wares before the start of practice for the Indianapolis 500, the crown jewel of the IRL series.
One of the founding principles of the IRL was to reestablish the role of mechanics and engine builders in open-wheel racing. That promise has been fulfilled, and IRL teams can now buy, sell, rebuild, and modify their engines. In IRL circles, it's commonplace to see mechanics working on motors in the garages -- a stark contrast to the restrictions imposed by engine leasing programs in the recent past.
In this open market, the IRL Aurora V8's combination of performance, efficient packaging, and proven reliability has made Oldsmobile the overwhelming choice of IRL teams -- and has created a new industry of Indy car engine builders in America.
"The engine is the heart of any race car," noted IRL Executive Director Leo Mehl. "You need reliable and readily available engines for a series to progress. With good engines, drivers get more track time, teams can develop their cars, and tire manufacturers can test their products."
The backgrounds of the men who build IRL Aurora V8 racing engines span the spectrum of American motorsports, from drag racing and road racing to stock cars and open-wheelers. The roster of current Oldsmobile IRL engine builders includes (in alphabetical order):
Blueprint Racing (Bedford Park, Ill.) -- Blueprint Racing President Ed Rachanski, a former drag racer, is applying his expertise as an FAA-approved aircraft engine rebuilder to assemble engines for his own team.
Brayton Engineering (Coldwater, Mich.) -- Jim Wright is continuing the Brayton legacy in Indy car racing as engine builder for several IRL teams, including Kelley Racing, Team Cheever, ISM Racing, McCormack Motorsports, and Byrd/Cunningham Racing.
Comptech (Eldorado Hills, Calif.) -- With championships in IMSA and SCCA road racing, Comptech principals Don Erb and Doug Peterson have branched out to the IRL as engine supplier for Bradley Motorsports.
Katech (Clinton Township, Mich.) -- After sweeping the IMSA World Sports Car and GTS-1 titles with IMSA Aurora V8 engines in 1996, Katech now supplies IRL Aurora V8 engines for A.J. Foyt Enterprises and the new Marko team. Katech motors have also won titles in the NASCAR Busch Grand National, ASA, and SCCA Trans Am series.
NAC (Chicago Ridge, Ill.) -- Mickey Nickos called on his decades of experience in short-track racing to pull off one of the greatest upsets in auto racing at the 1997 Phoenix 200 when unheralded Jim Guthrie drove a NAC-built IRL Aurora V8 to victory.
Roush Technologies (Livonia, Mich.) -- In addition to his five front-running Winston Cup stock car teams and multiple championships in SCCA Trans-Am and IMSA road racing, Jack Roush's racing empire includes a thriving IRL engine business. Former drag racer Bob Corn directs the engine shop that powered Arie Luyendyk to victory in the Indy 500 and True Value 500 in 1997. Roush's customers include Treadway Racing, Riley & Scott, and Team Scandia.
Speedway Engine Development (Indianapolis) -- Herb Porter has been a respected Indy car engine builder since the days of the Offenhausers. Now Porter and partner Rick Long are in the vanguard of IRL engine builders with a roster of teams that includes Nienhouse Motorsports, Chastain Motorsports, Chitwood Motorsports, Panther Racing, PDM Racing, Hemelgarn Racing, and Pagan Racing.
Team Menard (Indianapolis) -- Led by Butch Meyer, the grandson of three-time Indy 500 winner Louis Meyer, Team Menard made a successful transition from turbocharged V6 engines to the new-generation IRL Aurora V8. Menard's in-house engine department propelled Tony Stewart to the 1996-97 IRL championship.
IRL Aurora V8 engines have won every IRL race since the introduction of the series' 4.0-liter production-based engine formula in January, 1997. In the nine races contested to date, five different Oldsmobile engine builders have been represented in the IRL winner's circle:
Brayton: Orlando (1997) NAC: Phoenix Roush: Indianapolis, Fort Worth, Las Vegas Menard: Pikes Peak, Loudon, Orlando (1998) Speedway: Charlotte
Last month in Indianapolis, representatives of the eight IRL Aurora V8 engine builders met with GM Motorsports engineers to chart a course for future development. Although the suppliers are rivals on the race track, they work cooperatively with GM engineers and aftermarket specialists on common issues. Input from these engine experts has led to improvements in castings, machining tolerances, electronic systems, and software.
"One builder remarked that IRL engines are becoming as reliable as Winston Cup motors," said Joe Negri, GM Motorsports IRL/Road Racing Group manager. "Engine reliability will always be an issue in auto racing, especially in a series that allows teams to experiment with their engines, but we have made dramatic progress in durability and reliability in the past year."
Oldsmobile's IRL engine program is similar to the involvement of other General Motors divisions in motorsports. As in NASCAR stock car racing and NHRA drag racing, GM engineers designed and developed major components such as the block and cylinder heads. Aftermarket specialists produce other components to GM specifications.
An IRL Aurora V8 assembled with GM-specified parts is available at the IRL-mandated price of $80,000. Engine builders and teams are, of course, free to substitute or modify internal components within the limits of the IRL rules.
The IRL Aurora V8 engines that will race on the fast Phoenix one-mile oval are more powerful than the motors that competed there last year. New intake manifolds with improved airflow, a new optional intake cam profile, new exhaust systems, and new calibrations for the Delco Decise electronic engine management system have significantly increased horsepower.
How much more power? That depends on the dynamometer and procedure used to test the powerplant. A typical IRL Aurora V8 produces in excess of 700 horsepower from just 244 cubic inches of piston displacement.
Last year's race in Phoenix was marred by several engine failures that led some critics to conclude that the IRL engine formula was flawed. Many of those engine problems were subsequently found to be the result of shortcomings in the plumbing and oil storage systems of the IRL's new chassis that were accentuated by the high cornering forces on the one-mile oval.
After the Phoenix experience, GM engineers worked with Indy car chassis specialists to develop guidelines on oil system plumbing and dry sump tanks. Reliability improved dramatically at Indianapolis and Fort Worth -- and three months later at Pikes Peak International Raceway, the IRL Aurora V8 enjoyed a perfect reliability record.